- For other uses, please see War of the Ancients.
The War of the Ancients was first referred to in the story of Warcraft III, where it depicts the first titanic battle between the Burning Legion and the night elves, also known as the "First Burning Legion Invasion".
Below is the account of the War of the Ancients, as given on the Official Site as part of its History of Warcraft, and scattered throughout the World of Warcraft as in-game books. See, The War of the Ancients, The Waking World and the Well of Eternity and The Sundering of the World. It expanded on the War of the Ancients (WC3 account), although the wording was altered in a few places.
Events leading up to the war
As the seemingly endless ages passed, the night elves' civilization expanded both territorially and culturally. Their temples, roads, and dwelling places stretched across the breadth of the dark continent. Azshara, the night elves' beautiful and gifted queen, built an immense, wondrous palace on the Well's shore that housed her favored servitors within its bejeweled halls. Her servitors, whom she called the quel'dorei or "Highborne", doted on her every command and believed themselves to be greater than the rest of their brethren. Though Queen Azshara was loved equally by all of her people, the Highborne were secretly envied and disliked by the rest of the night elves.
Sharing the priests' curiosity towards the Well of Eternity, Azshara ordered the Highborne to plumb its secrets and reveal its true purpose in the world. The Highborne buried themselves in their work and studied the Well ceaselessly. In time they developed the ability to manipulate and control the Well's cosmic energies. As their experiments progressed, the Highborne found that they could use their newfound powers to either create or destroy at their leisure. The heedless Highborne had stumbled upon primitive magic and were now resolved to devote themselves to its mastery. Although they agreed that magic was inherently dangerous if handled irresponsibly, Azshara and her Highborne began to practice their spellcraft with reckless abandon. Cenarius and many wizened night elf scholars warned that only calamity would result from toying with the clearly volatile arts of magic. Even so, Azshara and her followers stubbornly continued to expand their burgeoning powers.
As their powers grew, a distinct change came over Azshara and the Highborne. The haughty, aloof upper class became increasingly callous and cruel towards their fellow night elves. A dark, brooding pall veiled Azshara's once-entrancing beauty. She began to withdraw from her loving subjects and refused to interact with any but her trusted Highborne priests.
A young scholar named Malfurion Stormrage, who had spent much of his time studying the primitive arts of druidism, began to suspect that a terrible power was corrupting the Highborne and his beloved queen. Though he could not conceive of the evil that was to come, he knew that the night elves' lives would soon be changed forever....
The War of the Ancients
The Highborne's reckless use of magic sent ripples of energy spiraling out from the Well of Eternity and into the Great Dark Beyond. The streaming ripples of energy were felt by terrible alien minds. Sargeras - the Great Enemy of all life, the Destroyer of Worlds - felt the potent ripples and was drawn to their distant point of origin. Spying the primordial world of Azeroth and sensing the limitless energies of the Well of Eternity, Sargeras was consumed by an insatiable hunger. The great dark god of the Nameless Void resolved to destroy the fledgling world and claim its energies as his own.
Sargeras gathered his vast Burning Legion and made his way towards the unsuspecting world of Azeroth. The Legion was comprised of a million screaming demons, all ripped from the far corners of the universe, and the demons hungered for conquest. Sargeras' lieutenants, Archimonde the Defiler and Mannoroth the Destructor, prepared their infernal minions to strike.
Queen Azshara, overwhelmed by the terrible ecstasy of her magic, fell victim to Sargeras' undeniable power and agreed to grant him entrance to her world. Even her Highborne servitors gave themselves over to magic's inevitable corruption and began to worship Sargeras as their god. To show their allegiance to the Legion, the Highborne aided their queen in opening a vast, swirling portal within the depths of the Well of Eternity.
Once all his preparations had been made, Sargeras began his catastrophic invasion of Azeroth. The warrior-demons of the Burning Legion stormed into the world through the Well of Eternity and laid siege to the night elves' sleeping cities. Led by Archimonde and Mannoroth, the Legion swarmed over the lands of Kalimdor, leaving only ash and sorrow in its wake. The demon warlocks called down searing infernals that crashed like hellish meteors into the graceful spires of Kalimdor's temples. A band of burning, bloodletting killers known as the Doomguard marched across Kalimdor's fields, slaughtering everyone in their path. Packs of wild, demonic felhounds ravaged the countryside unopposed. Though the brave Kaldorei warriors rushed to defend their ancient homeland, they were forced to give ground, inch by inch, before the fury of the Legion's onslaught.
It fell to Malfurion Stormrage to find help for his beleaguered people. Stormrage, whose own brother, Illidan, practiced the Highborne's magics, was incensed by the growing corruption amongst the upper class. Convincing Illidan to forsake his dangerous obsession, Malfurion set out to find Cenarius and muster a resistance force. The beautiful young priestess, Tyrande, agreed to accompany the brothers in the name of Elune. Though Malfurion and Illidan shared a love for the idealistic priestess, Tyrande's heart belonged to Malfurion alone. Illidan resented his brother's budding romance with Tyrande, but knew that his heartache was nothing compared to the pain of his magical addiction.
Illidan, who had grown dependent on magic's empowering energies, struggled to keep control of his nearly overwhelming hunger to tap the Well's energies once again. However, with Tyrande's patient support, he was able to restrain himself and help his brother find the reclusive demigod, Cenarius. Cenarius, who dwelt within the sacred Moonglades of the distant Mount Hyjal, agreed to help the night elves by finding the ancient dragons and enlisting their aid. The dragons, led by the great red leviathan, Alexstrasza, agreed to send their mighty flights to engage the demons and their infernal masters.
Cenarius, calling on the spirits of the enchanted forests, rallied an army of ancient tree-men and led them against the Legion in a daring ground assault. As the night elves' allies converged upon Azshara's temple and the Well of Eternity, all-out warfare erupted. Despite the strength of their newfound allies, Malfurion and his colleagues realized that the Legion could not be defeated by martial strength alone.
As the titanic battle raged around Azshara's capital city, the delusional queen waited in anticipation for Sargeras' arrival. The lord of the Legion was preparing to pass through the Well of Eternity and enter the ravaged world. As his impossibly huge shadow drew ever closer to the Well's raging surface, Azshara gathered the most powerful of her Highborne followers. Only by linking their magics together in one focused spell would they be able to create a gateway large enough for Sargeras to enter.
As the battle raged across the burning fields of Kalimdor, a terrible turn of events unfolded. The details of the event have been lost to time, but it is known that Neltharion, the Dragon Aspect of the Earth, went mad during a critical engagement against the Burning Legion. He began to split apart as flame and rage erupted from his dark hide. Renaming himself Deathwing, the burning dragon turned on his brethren and drove the five dragonflights from the field of battle.
Deathwing's sudden betrayal was so destructive that the five dragonflights never truly recovered. Wounded and shocked, Alexstrasza and the other noble dragons were forced to abandon their mortal allies. Malfurion and his companions, now hopelessly outnumbered, barely survived the ensuing onslaught.
Malfurion, convinced that the Well of Eternity was the demons' umbilical link to the physical world, insisted that it should be destroyed. His companions, knowing that the Well was the source of their immortality and powers, were horrified by the rash notion. Yet Tyrande saw the wisdom of Malfurion's theory, so she convinced Cenarius and their comrades to storm Azshara's temple and find a way to shut the Well down for good.
Knowing that the Well's destruction would prevent him from ever wielding magic again, Illidan selfishly abandoned the group and set out to warn the Highborne of Malfurion's plan. Due to the insanity brought on by his addiction and the stinging resentment towards his brother's affair with Tyrande, Illidan felt no remorse at betraying Malfurion and siding with Azshara and her ilk. Above all else, Illidan vowed to protect the Well's power by any means necessary.
Heartbroken by his brother's departure, Malfurion led his companions into the heart of Azshara's temple. Yet as they stormed into the main audience chamber, they found the Highborne in the midst of their final dark incantation. The communal spell created an unstable vortex of power within the Well's turbulent depths. As Sargeras' ominous shadow drew ever closer to the surface, Malfurion and his allies rushed to attack.
Azshara, having received Illidan's warning, was more than prepared for them. Nearly all of Malfurion's followers fell before the mad queen's powers. Tyrande, attempting to attack Azshara from behind, was caught off-guard by the queen's Highborne guardsmen. Though she vanquished the guardsmen, Tyrande suffered grievous wounds at their hands. When Malfurion saw his love fall, he went into a murderous rage and resolved to end Azshara's life.
As the battle raged inside and outside of the temple, Illidan appeared from the shadows near the shores of the great Well. Producing a set of specially crafted vials, Illidan knelt and filled each with the Well's shimmering waters. Convinced that the demons would crush the night elves' civilization, he planned to steal the sacred waters and keep their energies for himself.
The ensuing battle between Malfurion and Azshara threw the Highborne's carefully crafted spellwork into chaos. The unstable vortex within the Well's depths exploded and ignited a catastrophic chain of events that would sunder the world forever. The massive explosion rocked the temple to its foundations and sent massive quakes ripping through the tortured earth. As the horrific battle between the Legion and the night elves' allies raged around and above the ruined capital city, the surging Well of Eternity buckled in upon itself and collapsed.
The resultant catastrophic explosion shattered the earth and blotted out the skies.
A brief account was covered in Warcraft III manual, it can be found War of the Ancients (WC3 account).
Two more versions of the war were described in the War of the Ancients Trilogy, the 3 books by Richard A. Knaak. One version told of events that occurred before history was altered. The second version was created by 3 characters from the present time traveling back in time 10,000 years ago, and witnessing first hand the events of the war unfolding, and eventually being responsible for changing key aspects of it.
Blizzard appears to consider the War of the Ancients Trilogy as an official, authoritative source of 'true' history, as most articles currently up on the WarCraft Encyclopedia directly reference events in that version, and characters only found in that version have articles there. Please see War of the Ancients (novel account) for more info.
Other sources such as the RPG, and World of Warcraft sometimes expand on the War of the Ancients, as well, by telling stories of lesser known events that occurred during the War.